Photography Month Article: Nostalgia and the Polaroid

Photographic Nostalgia: Polaroid and its Comeback

Flipping through my pictures growing up, the uniquely square format with the white border frame jumps out of my parents’ photo albums. What a wonderful creation, to have a camera that not only captures life’s precious moments but also instantaneously prints them. In Russia, in the 90s, they were all the rage. No vacation was complete without Polaroid snaps of my family relaxing on the rocky beaches of the Black Sea, or of our beaming smiles in front of the gold-crusted palaces of Saint Petersburg. Looking back, even after slides and printed film photography had replaced the square formatted prints, Polaroid remained uniquely playful and striking. So much so, that Polaroid has since re-invented itself as a modern artistic medium of sorts, bringing back the nostalgic feeling of a pre-tech era.

After almost 20 years, I found my parents’ Polaroid lying dormant in its protective carry case, in a box amongst old film cameras. I dusted off the beauty and eagerly began shooting, only to realize that there was no film. Researching online, I came across the re-born Polaroid store, with reinvented “Impossible” color film, that was especially made to be compatible with my vintage 600-type Polaroid camera. I instantly ordered three packs (8 instant color film per pack), which each carried a rather pricey $23 dollar price tag. After studying film photography in university however, and realizing the crazy expensive cost of photo paper, $23 seemed very reasonable in comparison.

Once my film arrived, I remember feeling very giddy – like a little child receiving their highly anticipated Christmas gift from Santa. I loaded in the cartridge, proudly hanging the vintage camera around my neck, and took a little road-trip exploring some of Toronto’s gorgeous parks. Feeling nostalgic for my childhood memories, I shot images of playground swings, bicycles tied to trees, ducks swimming in the pond, and people enthralled in their books on park benches. Through it all, I found that it’s in these little moments that true happiness really lies.

For me, Polaroid brought back the joy of childhood, through its instantaneous capture and exciting exposure. The grin on my face could only be matched by the funny little dance I did, as I hid the exposed image from light as it quickly came to life, revealing my precious moment in stunning color.

The joy of Polaroid is so infectious that it drew in people all around me. As soon as people saw my Polaroid camera, they instantly came to see it, with their faces lit up by their own memories of that time. Strangers would gush to me about their memories of Polaroid captures, whether it was about their travels to faraway lands, their hilarious family gatherings, or their greatest moments of joy and celebration. What I found was that most people loved the fact that their photos were often candid, capturing the moment as it truly was – funny facial expressions and all. It was from those natural quirks that the best memories sprang up. This connection, to loving the perfectly imperfect candid moments of life, is what Polaroid has succeeded at bringing back once more.

So for those of you who see a Polaroid camera at a vintage store, or find one in the depths of your parents’ closets, I urge you to let it breathe life again. Buy some film, take it out to your favorite places, and have fun capturing ordinary moments that fill your heart with happiness. I guarantee you, you’ll be smiling long after the photo’s capture. I still am.

-Kat (Art Editor at Junto Magazine)